Blogs : July 2006

30 July

And more niches…

By KEITH ADAMS

So, a 75 Tourer is going in for a bit of green laning… big deal.

Look more closely though and you’ll see an increased track on this car and relatively high-profile tyres on those Union Alloys. So what’s going on? According to the excellent mg-rover.org Internet forum, this is an example of a Rover 75 Tourer 4×4 undergoing some pre-production testing. Or so it would seem – this particular car isn’t anything of the sort, but the one below is.

So, what’s the story behind it? Did it make use of the V8’s RWD platform? What was the marketing ambition for it? How many were going to sell? Why?

We’ll find out more and let you know – there’s obviously still a fair bit to find out about the Phoenix era.

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29 July

Speaking of big coupes

By KEITH ADAMS

ROVER had an interesting line-up of niche cars in the Nineties – what with the R8 Tourer, Tomcat and 800 Coupe. In many ways, the company, which had been living a somewhat hand-to-mouth existance had realised the perfect way of maximising a limited R&D budget – to make alternative versions of cars already in production.

So we had Coupe versions of the 200 and 800 and carbriolet versions of the 100 and 200. So why no variations on the 600 theme? After all, it was pretty and well regarded in the motoring press and with buyers, too…

Well, one picture which turned up in my inbox recently posed some interesting questions: was Rover investigating the idea of a 600 Coupe, and if so, why didn’t it make it into production?

We can only assume Honda didn’t want it to happen – or perhaps the marketing strategists didn’t see any way it could selll in large numbers. Given the subsequent success of the 3-Series and C-Class Coupes, we can see that there would have been a market for this car.

Perhaps that raises another question: would BMW have wanted an in-house rival to the 3-Series Coupe?

Now there is a question we’d like answering…

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26 July

It’s good to be back

By KEITH ADAMS

WHILE the world and his dog debates the relative merits of the Austin Maestro and Montego, I’ve been re-acquainting myself with an old friend. Regular readers may remember that I’d recently picked up a Rover 800 Coupe, which although was surplus to requirements, was far too good to turn down.

I decided as the weather was nice, and the roads round here were reasonably quiet, I’d get the old girl out while she still had some tax and MoT left on her, and go for a spin. My only other drive in it was when I picked it up from darkest Cambridgeshire, and I was in fault-finding mode. Tonight, it was all about enjoying the ride and falling in love again.

I’ve had Coupes before, but this is the first KV6-engined one. My first impressions were that I dare not use the loud pedal for fear of breaking it – but this time, I put those doubts aside after reading the comprehensive service history and a recent money-no-object engine rebuild that used plenty of upgraded 75 bits in it. A spirited drive and it soon became clear that this is a superior car to my much-missed Honda-powered Sterling Coupe – the one I took to Nurburgring on the day it was closed…

That KV6 engine is a revvy little thing
that sings a tune that’ll charm the
birds from the trees…

For one, it’s steering response is much sharper (although not Vitesse accurate), and the chassis has lost a great deal of the older car’s slop. That KV6 engine is a revvy little thing, too, and although that seems at odds with this car’s touring aspirations, it doesn’t matter at all – because it sings a tune that’ll charm the birds from the trees.

Within a few hundred yards of joining one of my favourite roads, I’d got back into the groove, wondering why I’d been away from these big Coupes for so long. The legion of faults that came with it remain, but now I’ve decided I like the car and it’s going to stay, their significance has shrunk back to the status of rectifiable niggles that will get fixed by car sorting genius, Brian Gunn…

As it says at the top, ‘it’s good to be back.’

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25 July

In defence of the Montego

By MIKE COOKE

IN response to Keith’s blog, and to level out the Maestro bias, I’m singing the praises of the Montego’s looks.

Admittedly, initially, the design of the Montego isn’t as easy on the eye as the square jawed, muscular stance of the sublime Maestro, but take a closer look, in 2006, and what was deemed ugly and clumsy in 1984, today looks graceful and delicate. The ‘face’ of the Monty, for instance, looks purposeful and strong, the scalloped sides a delightful idiosyncrosy, the delicate rear lights, mistaken for no others, and the tail down-nose up stance shouts of power beyond the Montego’s actual output.

I’ve been truly amazed by the amount of
interest she causes, particularly among
twenty-odd year olds, who tell me with
pride, that their parents owned one.

Inside the Monty you will find, a slim, beautiful steering wheel, lovely neat switchgear, and the instrument binnacle is utterly graceful, in it’s design, and a general air of being a ‘cut above’ the lesser cars on the road. Since owning the ‘Duchess’ (my Montego) I’ve been truly amazed by the amount of interest she causes, particularly amongst twenty-odd year olds, who tell me with pride, that their parents owned one.

I think that while time has been pretty hard on alot of Eighties designs, in this instance, it’s actually been kind on the Montego, the Maestro’s gawky, heavier sister, as finally come of age.

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24 July

Maestro: I like it…

By IAN SEABROOK

WHILE Keith (see below) may find the Montego an under-whelming proposition, I’m still over the moon with my Maestro.

I can’t explain why I like the look of the thing though. In theory, it should be hideous. I think it probably actually is but I still like it. I certainly prefer it to a MkIII Ford Escort or MkII Astra. Driving it is a pleasure too. You sit quite high up for a start which gives a good view out through the huge glass area. The controls are light and pleasant to use and the steering while unassisted, is light enough on the move.

The 1.3 litre, A plus engine is great too. Simple yet strong and torquey, it’ll pull from 20mph in top with a good spread of grunt throughout the rev range. Quite unlike a more modern car with a multivalve engine that demands high revs to deliver any power at all. The ride is comfortable and while it rolls like a barge at sea, the steering is positive enough to get you around corners without fear.

I love the simplicity of it all. There is little to go wrong because there is so little to start with. I have no problems opening windows myself and central locking only ever seems to go wrong. But what I really love is the value. £180 with six months tax and test seems ludicrous for a car with such ability. I find it hard to fathom why the Maestro has become so unloved. The fact that you often have to pay more for an Allegro leaves me quite at a loss to explain why. Maybe they should have fitted it with a square steering wheel.

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Feedback:

AGREED – I think the Maestro is a nice piece of industrial design, and it has a simplicity – call it unpretentiousness – that the Montego so sorely lacks. Steering apart, the Maestro is also a better drive than all its rivals, barring perhaps the similarly unloved Citroen BX.

KEITH ADAMS

I AM inclined to agree about the Montego, although I do still prefer it over it’s own brethren, the Maestro as I feel it looks less top heavy, and for some reason, unbeknown to me, I like it’s ‘wrap-around’ effect rear window and sixth light. I think both are a shame in that because the Ms were undoutadly the forefront of engineering like so many British cars, but then suffered needless set backs, and then a slightly unhappy styling. One only needs to look at the following behind the not-so-forgotten Sierra.

Other reasons why the Sierra has remained the enthusiast’s number one (on sheer volume of followers) would seem to be the halo effect of the Cosworth efforts, ‘Fourbe’ or otherwise, which as a rear wheel and rally proven four-driver probably had the beating of the torque/understeering front drive Monty… sadly for us. I’ve spent a lot of time in various Sierras now, and driven a whole one as oppose to not a single Montego, so I reserve judgement on driving pleasure alone, but a Sierra powered by CVH would seem to be one of the safest sub-£400 cars you can buy, and for a young nutcase like myself (only joking – I’m quite sensible really) RWD is a huge attraction to the way it drives.

Perhaps it’s time I make the case for the prettiest of the three, the mighty Metro, although I’d say it truly vindicates your point about a Rover facelift which in my opinion, transformed the image of the Metro. A car stlyed in the 70’s with a light Rover workover proves to be the best in class through the early Nineties and continues to sell well into the later half of the decade. Vindication indeed. The vindication of the Ms (I like that word now) would seem to come in the use of it’s rear end on the R3, I suppose.

ANTHONY ENDSOR


23 July

Montego: oh for new clothes

By KEITH ADAMS

A WHILE back I wrote a road test for MG Enthusiast magazine, in which I compared the MG Montego Turbo against the Cavalier SRi 130. In the test, I concluded that the MG was the more characterful car, and its turbocharged grunt helped it nose ahead in a narrow victory to the home team.

However that got me thinking about what it is about the Montego leaves me cold? I mean, as a driver’s machine goes, it’s got all it needs to compete effectively with the Sierras and Cavaliers of the world – its chassis is good, seats and interior are top of the tree, and engine refinement is good enough. It’s also pretty good on fuel, as long as you don’t hoof it.

No, having seen a Cavalier hatchback parked alongside a Montego, there’s no escaping the British car’s ugliness. The excessively long overhangs, the way the front wheels are almost touching the front door, the swage lines, and the messy treatment of the side and rear windows. Remember the joke about the Princess being designed by two people who weren’t talking to each other? In the Montego’s case, this is almost true: it was three people…

A Roverised Montego facelift would have
plugged the gap, and would have probably
done similar things in the C-segment as
the 800 did in the D-sector.

So, how would the old ‘tego have faired had it received a Rover 800-style reskin around 1989? Well, I reckon very well indeed – the 800 was doing the business at the time, and once the 400 came on stream in 1990, the same happened there. A Roverised Montego facelift would have plugged the gap, and would have probably done similar things in the C-sector as the 800 did in the D-sector.

There was a project to do this – the AR9 – but it didn’t get very far, and ended up being watered down to beome the 89MY facelift. A huge missed oppportunity in our books, even if the 600 came along in 1993 and did pretty well.

Such a shame…

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Feedback:

HAVING just read your blog about the Montego and the new clothes it never received.

I can’t help but feel you are being a bit harsh on the poor old car. It really was a good car in its time. It matched the Sierra and Cavalier in most areas and performed better than them in many others. The Montego even looked better than its two closest rivals. It is distinctive – and not in a bad way either. Compared to the Sierra and Cavalier it has a far more elegant form. The Sierra, once a radical design faded into boring samey obscurity, as for the Cavalier, although sleek and clean, it lacks a certain ‘something’ for me.

The Montego has a timeless elegance to it, certainly in its original Austin form. Look at it from the front perspective, those neat headlamps, the way the bonnet curves down to that thin grille. The rear end looks good too, the way the high boot line flows out of the wrap around rear window style. The original ‘ribbed’ light clusters, which I think work better on the Montego than most other cars to feature them at that time. However, let’s save the best until last, the side profile. There’s no two ways about it, its just looks right. The way the swage line casts shadows on the side of the car at certain angles, those pronounced, flared wheel arches.

The area that comes in for most criticism is the area around the rear quarter windows. Instead of thinking of them as mismatched to the glass in the doors, think of it as a neat extension to the rear screen! As for the positioning of the front wheels, when you take the car in side profile, you find it does balance out with the position of the rear wheels, the front and rear overhangs are quite evenly balanced, to have moved the front wheels forward would have made the car too rear heavy and upset the pleasing proportions. I feel they all come together and just look right. There is no offensive angle to view the Montego in.

Let’s hear less about the ugly ducking Montego. It has true elegance, something lacking on the Sierra, which was too adventurous in its styling to be a good looker, and the Cavalier which is, well, just plain boring and derivative.

RICHARD GELDER
Maestro & Montego Owners Club,
Publicity Coordinator

 


21 July

A classic Mini adventure

By FREDERICK HIGGS

FROM June 15th-July 10th, 2006, my wife Elaine and I travelled 8038 miles in our rebuilt and modified 1980 Mini 1000 to attend Mini Meet West in Prescott, Arizona and Mini Meet East in Frederick, Maryland.

In addition to the steel/paint work, the original factory 998cc engine, which we had warmed up a little over the years, was replaced with a fesh build of an offset bored 1380cc unit using HIF 44 SU, Swiftune’s SW5 cam, Mini Spares head, big bore intake and LCB, RC 40 exhaust, new brake and clutch masters/slave lines etc.

We also built a Mini trailer and carried our tools, spares and camping gear in it. Mini and trailer were painted Gloss Black over Liquid Yellow and were both upholstered to suit. Travelling weight was almost 2500 lbs. with full 7.2 gallon fuel tank – loaded trailer was 380 lbs. – netting 2120 for driver/passenger, luggage etc. in the Mini.

Average fuel economy over all miles was 41.5 mpg (Imp.) and we had no difficulty keeping up on the freeways, though travelled at a more comfortable 60-65 mph.

10″ wheels/tires did not much like some US highway construction such as concrete portions of interstate highways and those portions that were poorly maintained. Classic Mini was a rolling tourist attraction across america. Hundreds of photos were taken during the trip. Have attached photos of the nearly original 998cc Mini with Canadian bumpers (it became known as ‘Pooh’) and our restored/modified car/trailer combination.

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20 July

Witney classic car show

By AYD INSTONE

WE’RE not allowed to wash our cars here in Oxfordshire. So in preparation for the Witney Classic Car Show I reluctantly visit the local car wash, using far more water than I would had I done it myself. Then I set off for a field in Witney and follow an MG Y-Type through a gap in a hedge to the annual gathering of West Oxfordshire classic cars.

The Y-type is let in straight away. My friend Twan says we’ll have to bluff it. The man with the tape across the exhibitors entrance looks at us suspiciously, clearly doubting not only my Princess’s classic status but gives us a look of disdain that we should not be allowed to be on the roads at all. I look past him and see two year old Toyotas and Peugeots dotted around. The Y-Type has disappeared amongst the throng of Mk V Escorts and boy racers. “We’re with the Austin-Morris lot” I say, unconvincingly. “You mean the British Heritage people?” says the man. “Yeah, that’s them” I say, and we’re in.

We park up on a distinguished line with a few vintage examples and a Morris Minor. Opposite is the TR register with a good effort of TR7s, TR4s, a Stag a Dolomite and a banner. The Minis are always well represented here although now they have to compete with BMW ones. We have a look around at some fine Jaguars, a Cobra and some Healeys but there are no Austins or Rovers to be seen apart from two ZRs turned into portable discos.

A 14 year old walked past my drive this
week and looked in interest at the
Princess. “Wow!” he said, “Is it American?”

Annoyingly, the event seems to have been taken over with used car dealers attempting to flog their boring three year old Fords, Japs and Volvos where they seem to have cloned their showrooms from just across the road. Satisfyingly they were totally ignored and a little crowd hovers around the Princess and then moves onto the Yank Tanks.

Then as we’re about to go, an MG SV arrives! So I park up next to it for a rare photo opportunity. Seeing it up close symbolises what should have been. The crowd start to gravitate around it, manifesting posthumously the halo effect it was designed to create in the first place. It looks better in real life than in the photos, perhaps because it appears so much smaller in the metal (or rather in the composite material). If only it could have been made affordable it might just have worked.

Maybe it’s because I’m well versed in the history through this site that I feel the sense of loss. It’s not just the feeling that something is missing, that there are no new Rovers. But rather it’s a feeling that unlike BMW, Mercedes, Citroen and Ford, the heritage and the history has been somehow erased too. It’s a feeling that no-one would show an Austin Metro, a Rover 800 or even a Leyland product at a general event such as this. British motor history is denied in the same way Victorian families would hide away their disabled or mentally ill relatives and deny their existence.

A 14 year old walked past my drive this week and looked in interest at the Princess. “Wow!” he said, “Is it American?”

To see more pics from the even visit www.aydinstone.com/witney.

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19 July

Motor Show impressions

By KEITH ADAMS

THE British car industry has taken a right Royal kicking in recent years – what with MG Rover’s shut-down (the rebirth has yet to take place, okay), Ryton and Brown’s Lane’s closures, and the demise of Ford and Vauxhall factories – but our interest in the car is as strong now as it ever was. There are plenty of reasons the UK deserves to have a front line motor show – not least because our thriving specialist industry continues to fly the flag, and we still have a number of uber-successful foreign owned facilities churning out hundreds of thousands of cars…

So, it’s right and proper that we should expect a great motor show – after all, Switzerland delivers the goods at Geneva every year, and apart from Sbarro, what else in the way of cars does it offer

This year’s International Motor Show, held in London’s Docklands at the ExCeL Centre was a pretty good effort. There were some absentees, but we enjoyed world premieres of new cars (Corsa, Freelander, XKR) – and that’s something the Birmingham NEC never managed two years ago. The stands were pretty good, too – especially MINI’s off-shore barge – well, worth a visit if you’re into these cars (assuming you can get there if you’re taking the car).

MG will be back at the 2008 International
Motor Show at the ExCeL centre…

So, the compact venue delivered the goods in terms of new cars…

However, I couldn’t help but feel saddened by the absence of MG and Rover. I’m guessing that it’s the first British Motor Show ever not to take place at a time when neither companies were producing cars (in 2000, MGR pulled out of the NEC on the grounds of cost), and I suppose it seemed fitting that the absence of Birmingham’s finest coincided with the event’s move from what was once the UK’s industrial heartland to the our money capital – a place we excel in dealing in international markets.

MG will be back at the 2008 International Motor Show at the ExCeL centre, and the newly internationalised Modern Gentleman will probably fit right in…

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18 July

The trouble with paradise

By ANTHONY ENDSOR

Anthony Endsor makes a brief reappearance from his temporary life of leisure to offer his thoughts and unique perspective on Nanjing Automotive, Longbridge and the most ‘gorgeous’ car in the history of MG… and why it can never be built.

SOMETIMES the story is just too good to be true; there are a few realists/pessimists who insist on spoiling the happy moment and shatter that utopia. Sadly today, that will be me. The news this week has been strange at best, with conflicting reports landing from every direction, including assembly in Birmingham and Oklahoma, engineering bases in the UK and/or the USA, $2bn investments and even a tie up with Lotus.

MG under Nanjing

The story seems to be that all parts will be manufactured and shipped around the world, with assembly lines in at least Britain. The initial story was that the North Americans would bolt together the coupe, while Britain would take care of the existing roadster. To me, this would make absolutely no sense as the coupe has a terrific potential market here – one only has to look at the success of the new BMW Z4 and Audi TT to appreciate that.

Of course, NAC-MG knows that, and would surely import the car to Europe, but what would be the point when it could as easily be assembled here, and a roadster built in the US. However the latest news, which doesn’t confirm US production would seem to support what I had believed. The latest news of a tie up with Lotus also seems odd. Lotus has struggled under Proton, and production is down, with news of a new Espirit and Europa, demonstrated engineering ability with its performance crossover concept, and a tie-up with Volkswagen to build a three wheeler, it seems odd that they would now choose to partner Nanjing.

Maybe Lotus feels it is indebted to MGR; what with borrowing the K-Series and those eternal Metro wing mirrors? Nah, I doubt it as well.

What I would conclude, is that Lotus will be taking care of engineering exercise, and offering expertise with low volume but affordable production, such as variable vehicle platforms, and federalising cars. What this confirms is my long held belief that Nanjing needs some more concentrated engineering. The members of the small group of Civil Engineering firm, Ove Arup, are incredibly gifted, but it strikes me that a dozen people there achieve in one year, what most car companies take four or five years to do – with hundreds of designers, engineers, managers and planners on the books.

Production and Employment

It seems to me a waste that Longbridge, a site of such magnitude should go to waste. NAC feel that they will begin producing a whopping 15,000 cars a year and will set up a European base of operations there logically. Talk of employment levels at Longbridge between 250 rumoured and the 2000 Autocar magazine speculated seem wildly modest or optimistic.

250 would seem very low, although any production in this country or Oklahoma would only be assembly of kits sent from NAC-MG’s factory in Nanjing. What strikes me about the other values are that 6000 couldn’t profitably build under 200,000 cars a year, including Directors, Managers, Designers, Engineers, Technicians, Product Planners, Sales staff, Marketing staff, let alone the actual workers who ran the paint shop, built engines and gearboxes, and worked on the actual assembly line.

There has been talk that an engineering base was to have been established in the USA, not UK, but what would seem to be the case is that small engineering, research and development bases will be set out for each market. What seems logical to me is that Longbridge will produce cars for Europe, possibly Africa, to suit our home markets, while the USA will build cars for the Americas. NAC-MG, who will already be manufacturing the car in China, can set up its own assembly line in China for the Asian and Australasian markets.

Maybe Lotus feels it is indebted to MGR;
what with borrowing the K-Series and
those eternal Metro wing mirrors?
Nah, I doubt it as well.

The original justification for maintaining Longbridge as opposed to a cheaper European base (such as Poland), was the use of a relatively new and modern paint shop, which once disassembled will cost a fortune to get running again, so it cannot simply be moved. However, considering the amount NAC-MG has to invest in Longbridge, it seems the real reason for staying in the UK is something else.

I feel the reason it’s because no-one will want to buy a British sportscar built in Oklahoma by Americans and fabricated by its Chinese owner in the Far East. Many will argue that MG became just a nameplate after the closure of Abingdon (although they could not argue that the MGF/TF was not the real thing), turning humble saloon parts into an exciting, attractive and fine handling roadster.

Cut all links to South Birmingham and MG really is just a meaningless acronym. The need for American production (only in conjunction with UK) would seem to be the chance to conquer that market, where MG is established, although long absent. To put hard-working Americans into auto work seems to be the icing on the cake to entice American investors to the tune of $2bn. I fear the amount of work created at both sites, and the production volumes will be slightly underwhelming. With companies such as Arup and Lotus on board, it seems there will be little left over for UK or US engineers to do other than devise road settings, states of tune and homologation.

The ‘new’ MG TF GT

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best-looking MG in the history of the marque. Unlike the already attractive roadster, the proportions are just perfect. The mid-engine and retracting hood set up of the roadster makes for a comparatively short bonnet with a long rear deck section, but with the coupe’s elegant roofline, comparable but better than that of the Audi TT, the styling is perfect. It is easily the equal of Jaguar’s self-proclaimed ‘gorgeous’ XK (and I do agree), or of anything made by Aston Martin.

It might not be a high-end GT, but it looks modern and most importantly, stunningly beautiful in a way that it seems only Britain knows how to do. This is remarkable because the MGF, which despite complete chassis alterations and panel changes beneath the surface, looks almost identical when side by side. If the MGF were launched today, it would still look brand new. The GT looks like it means business, and would look set to impress the junior end of the market for the Audi TT and Nissan 350Z buyers.

Unlike the TT however, this is no rehashed Golf. As good as it may be, this is still a hot hatch in disguise, and all the better for it. But, the TF is a real sports car. It may be a transverse set up, like the Metro, of whose parts of the original F was derived from, the engine resides behind the cockpit like so many sports and super cars. In the TF GT, all drive is directed to its rear wheels where its modest outputs are transformed into optimised drive of its lightweight body. Sports cars aren’t just about going quick though, but their nimble and actual engineered handling, not infallible grip.

So, the styling is simply put classic, the price should be good with parts made affordably in China and assembled locally, the chassis is plenty modern enough, safety would be easy to make class leading, recent cars were known to be far less troublesome, the markets exist for both coupe and roadster, the brand is well established, what more could we ask?

Well a lot, actually. A complete in and out reskin for starters. You see while this is the most stunning car in MG’s long history, it looks like one they made and showed the world in 1995. With one source suggesting a reintroduction in 2007, at the age of twelve after a two-year recess and a not inconsiderable change in location of where it is actually manufactured, and another suggesting a relaunch in 2009, as the Nanjing plant isn’t supposed to be completed until 2008, after a four year break and having reached it’s spotty teenage years, I just don’t see how this can work. The MGB may have lived a long time with only bumpers and ride height really separating it’s appearance, but in this day and age of five start NCAP cars and Bands A, B, C etc emissions where cars live for five years, and then are hopelessly outdated and outclassed by their competitors, people will not by a car that is over a decade old.

You could alter it as much as you like under the skin to make it drive better, free a few more horses from behind the seats, and stretch it’s face a little, and the Lord knows MG-Rover tried, but people just will not buy an old car. If the press don’t jump on this alone then it will too be the K-Series under fire. Although I have never actually encountered a broken one, there is no denying the problems Rover suffered in the late Nineties with cooling problems and construction particularly in the larger capacity versions, and in high load applications, namely the Freelander.

Even if the last engines are almost impervious, then the damage is done. Even if you alter the name it may be hard to convince the informed press that this is a new engine. The Euro IV work was completed so I hope in name and visually this is a new engine in order to convince the press and public. If a lingering reputation for K-Series unreliability is not an issue, then its age will be. Perhaps given that there will be need to federalise it too, it may simply be best to use another engine such as Audi’s 1.8T, as suggested a few months ago, or the Petronas designs also implicated.

And this is why NAC-MG cannot reintroduce this truly beautiful car we see above. If they relaunch it I will be first in the queue, but I don’t think you’ll find another 14,999 people across Europe in the first year who agree, let alone the second, and third, until NAC see fit to design a new car.

Sorry guys

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16 July

A happy… and sad day

By KEITH ADAMS

THIS was good to see. The car has taken a bit of a bashing recently in London, what with bus lanes, cameras, congestion charging… it almost seems like the humble motorist has been made into a social pariah in the capital – and for why? Because he or she enjoys the personal freedom that car ownership brings…

Still for one day, central London became a rolling celebration of all that was good about the car industry – lots of classics, penty of supercars, and more than a few family cars from yesteryear. The London Car Parade started in Piccadilly and wended its way through the centre of London’s West End – and a crowd of thousands cheered on this amazing selection of cars.

My only regret about the event was that
there were no Rovers…

We did the trip in a Vauxhall Lotus Carlton (thanks to the Vauxhall Heritage Collection) – a car, which on a normal day would no doubt attract tons of attention, but today formed a small part of the parade. Having a Jaguar XJ220 in tow behind me meant I was always going to play second fiddle in the glamour stakes.

So, a great day for London and car enthusiasts… and a marvel that the organisers managed to close off this area of London and have it all run so smoothly.

My only regret about the event was that there were no Rovers – and for a marque that has formed such a significant part of our country’s motoring heritage, this was something of a calamity. If the parade happens next year, we’ll have to make sure there’s a Rover’s returm.

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13 July

MG – at last a global player

By RYAN TAYLOR

LIKE any follower of MG Rover, I was more than a little taken aback when news of Nanjing’s plans to build MG cars in Oklahoma came to light.

Having heaved a sigh of relief that the Chinese would, after all, honour its plans to produce cars at the defunct Longbridge factory, the formation of MG Motors North America Inc. came as something of a bolt out of the blue.

Predictably, much of the media coverage has concentrated on the negative – perhaps not entirely without good reason.

Trade unions have been quick to express concern over MG’s stateside ambitions, begging the question: “Where does this leave Longbridge?”

We all know the Birmingham plant will produce fewer cars as it concentrates solely on TF production, but with TF GTs made in America, and family MGs sprouting out of China, just how small a piece of the pie will be left for MG’s original home turf?

All will be revealed next week. But in the meantime, would it be entirely in bad form to step away from the – admittedly pertinent – questions surrounding manufacturing, and simply enjoy the moment?

It shows just how outrageous some of our industry leaders have been over the decades when you think that one of the world’s most famous sports car manufacturers has been allowed to wither and (almost) die.

And it’s certainly a damning indictment that it has taken the ambition of Chinese businessmen to set things in motion again.

MG is an extremely powerful name in the motoring world, with enough kudos as a brand to rival the likes of Jaguar and Rolls Royce.

If Land Rover was – as was described at the time – the jewel in the crown of the old Rover Group, MG was its hidden gem. Admired and loved the world over, and still fondly remembered in markets where it had not sold for decades.

The affection people held for the brand was extremely strong.

But news of Nanjing’s global ambitions for MG comes as new territory for any BMC-Rover enthusiast.

Finally, we’re seeing the famous sporting name gain the kind of investment it deserves, as a global multinational no less.

An in an increasingly competitive market, where UK car production has found itself in a stranglehold throughout this year (TVR, Vauxhall, Peugeot) it’s heartening to know the plant that once formed the linchpin of the British industry but found itself under so much turmoil is back in business.

Isn’t that worth celebrating?

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12 July

This will run and run

By GRAHAM ROBSON

IT was very interesting to read the latest installment of the MG will-they-or-won’t-they saga.

The MG revival story is bound to run and run. The crux of all this, apparently, is that the British company, Stadco, which made bodies for the MG TF still (a) possesses all the press and assembly tooling, and (b) reckons that it has legal ownership to them, having part-financed the project in the first place.

That company is still owed money by the bankrupt MG Rover Group, and says it is not interested in starting up again until those debts are paid.

The MG revival story is bound to run and run

Then we come to the USA situation. The MG TF’s existing engine has never been ‘federalised’ for the USA market, which would take a lot of time and a lot of money. It’s an old engine now (introduced in 1989, at first), so perhaps Nanjing considers a different type of engine – which would need to be (a) federalised and (b) the car would need to be re-developed – is justified…

I am assured by legally-proficient Americans that ex-MG dealers in the USA (from the Sixties and Seventies) would either demand to be re-appointed, or would demand financial recompense for having their old franchises abruptly terminated in 1980.

Sounds fun… and expensive.

The phrase ‘class action’ comes to mind.

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11 July

Rule Britannia

By KEITH ADAMS

EVERYONE has pre-conceived ideas about cars they’ve not driven before. It’s hard not to. And the more cars you drive, the more accurate your predictions are about how a car new to you is going to drive.

This was certainly the case with me – and my first experience of a Land Rover Defender has been a real eye-opener – not because my instincts were proved to be inaccurate, but because sometimes, the whole of a car far outweighs the sum of its parts.

I knew that even though it should be illogical to do so, I was going to fall in love with the Defender. Being a lover of all cars traditionally British, it was going to be hard not to – but even before I got in, I was hooked. Why? The keyring sported a Rover 200/400 remote fob, and an SD1 style ignition key – what’s not to love?

As I climbed in the austere, angular and ever so old fashioned interior, and settled behind the thick-rimmed Land Rover Discovery Mk1 steering wheel, noted the Rover 800 switches, Princess column stalks and Allegro Mk3 ashtray, I mentally recalibrated to account for what I was expecting to be a noisy, slow and ponderous drive.

With the Landie, you’re buying into a way of life – and every journey in it opens up limitless possibilities…

The TD5 engine didn’t disappoint. It fired up with about as much willingness as me after a heavy night out in Blackpool, and idled in a noisy vibratory way. Once underway, though, things improved very quickly – the steering is remarkably light, and far more responsive than I was expecting. Acceleration is sprightly in a mid-range diesely kind of way, and ride, although edgy, is actually rather good on smooth roads.

But you can’t escape the fact that this car is no great shakes on the road.

No matter. By the time I’d reached the bottom of the street I decided I loved the Land Rover. I know straight away why, too – it comes down to character. The Defender oozes the stuff from every pore, and not only is it fun, but it’s obviously very cool. The driving position works well, the view out is little short of commanding – and I can’t think of any other car you can buy that out-psyches Transits quite so effectively.

So, it’s another case of irrational love, I’m guessing.

With the Landie, you’re buying into a way of life – and every journey in it opens up limitless possibilities. You may be commuting to work in it, but deep down, you know if you have to ford a very deep river or climb a snowy mountain to get there, you’ve got the wheels under you to do it. Not only that, and I know it’s twee, but Land Rover drivers all wave at each other – something I’ve never experienced in a car – classic or modern.

As I say, it’s a way of life. And one I could see myself quite easily getting into.

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Feedback:

YOU want to try driving one where they belong! Spent a weekend with Vince Cobley of the East Midland Land Rover Experience in Wales off roading in a TD5 “Tomb Raider” Defender and a Discovery. Incredible what they will do.

I owned an Isuzu Trooper only to find it was hopeless in comparison.

But then, I did my work experience at Land Rover in 1993 so I’m even more biased!

IAN SEABROOK


10 July

Another reason to love women

By KEITH ADAMS

IAN might be having problems with his old car fleet (see below), but sometime CHPD can work in your favour. Well, that and being mates with someone about to get married…

Yep, get yourself a name for having an affinity with unwanted pups – especially those with a Rover badge on their snout, and you’re in the pound seats for any waifs and strays that might come your way.

Take for instance one of my friends who has a similar obsession with cars of a less than fragrant nature – we’ll call him Mr X for now. He’s not far off getting married, and is getting all sorts of grief from his other half regarding the size and questionable provenance of his fleet. She basically said to him that he really should drive something modern, and leave the neo-classic Rovers well alone… they are, after all, a money pit.

He mentions the situation to me, knowing full well that I have a bit of a thing for ageing Rovers – and before you can say ‘Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder’, we’ve made a deal on his 1996 Rover 825 Sterling Coupe – which as you can see above, is now nestling in my garage. His loss, is most certainly my gain.

…there’s going to a time – not too long
from now – where we’ll not be able to
enjoy cars like this anymore…
…So let’s make the most of it.

I don’t really need the car – having recently picked up a reasonably fit and healthy Citroen Xantia Activa – and truth be told, I didn’t want it. But before I could say ‘no’ to him, I lost all sense of rationality agreeing to take it off his hands, promising to make good all the electrical woes its suffering from.

Of which, there are one or two. Or maybe a dozen. Perhaps more…

It’s a KV6-powered Sterling too – so I’m not even following my own sensible advice I give anyone who asks. But then again, I never follow my own rules – having taken on more than a few cars without ever sitting behind the wheel of them. I suppose life would be too dull for an automotive thrill seeker like me if I adopted a rational approach.

The drive home revealed a lengthy phalanx of problems: the electric seats, the central locking, the key fob, and the throttle position sensor don’t work (meaning it’ll only go into top gear when you back off the throttle completely) – oh, and the bonnet catch is broken, meaning you need a pair of pliers to get into it. Let’s also not forget the ABS light that doesn’t go out…

So, you reckon I’d hate it then? Far from it – CHPD is a complaint that has you seeing the best in things – and with working air conditioning, a fantastic engine note, wafty dynamics and excellent steering (woohoo – far better than the Honda set-up in the previous model), there’s too much going for the car to make you dislike it. Also, you open that frameless door, slide into that cossetting leather armchair and drink in the unfeasbly classy interior, and it makes you feel like a million Euros.

So, what will happen to the 800? Well, with 138,000 miles on the clock and a KV6-Series engine, it’s a ticking bomb for sure – but I reckon I’d going to put that out of my mind and enjoy some time with it. Besides, there’s going to a time – not too long from now – where we’ll not be able to enjoy cars like this anymore. So let’s make the most of it.

Happy wedding day, Mr X…

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9 July

Why I don’t love old cars

By IAN SEABROOK

THERE has been much misty eyed worship of old cars on the Austin-rover.co.uk forum recently. We’ve been quick to mock owners of modern cars as we parade around in our cheaper and arguably better cars.

But it’s all going wrong for me at the moment.

The 2CV has started to leak engine oil. This is more of a problem than it might be on any other car because the front brakes are inboard and are attached to the sides of the gearbox. Therefore, leaking engine oil is now soaking the RH brake leading to a noticeable effect on braking efficiency.

So now I’ve got a 2CV with iffy brakes and an
oil leak, a Mini that handles like a pneumatic
drill and a Maestro 40 miles from home…

It was for this reason that I had one of those CHPD moments and bought a Maestro on Ebay. I needed something to allow me to take the 2CV off the road for a few days so it can be sorted out. I was to collect the car on Sunday as a family gathering down south was to be attended on the Saturday. Only one option, take the Mini which coped well with being driven within 10mph of its top speed for several hours.

But on the way back, I noticed a vibration through the steering which was making my hand appear blurry. As I commented on this to my passengers, the bonnet popped open at 70mph resulting in a hasty manoeuvre to the hard shoulder. It appears that it has a failed wheel bearing.

So now I’ve got a 2CV with iffy brakes and an oil leak, a Mini that handles like a pneumatic drill and a Maestro 40 miles from home that I know nothing about and can’t collect!

But I guess we wouldn’t love them if they didn’t make life challenging for us!

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6 July

Jag dressing…

By KEITH ADAMS

IT’S great to know that my plea for theme suggestions for our Staples2Naples Jaguar has been met as a challenge by a number of you. I began to think in terms of dressing up the old barge as General Lee, buying some air horns, and going like that.

The trouble is, it has been done before, and it would be nice to do something a bit more original…

So, it was heartening to see a number of ideas that I’d never considered – most of which were really rather good. Resident site Photoshopper and forum moderator, Mark Mastrototaro, knocked up a quick and dirty suggestion based on the Eighties XJR-9 Le Mans racer, which I think would look pretty good – especially as we’re going to be in a Jag – and we’ll be taming Europe in it.

As a closet motorsport fan, I really do like
the idea of adopting racing colours…

Mind you, in keeping with the website as well as staying true to Jaguar traditions, there is always the ‘Leyland’ branded XJC touring cars to model the car off… after all, it’s a nice way to get Leyland Roundels on to my Leaping Cat without upsetting too many purists. I reckon that might tip us over the edge in terms of class quotient.

As a closet motorsport fan, I really do like the idea of adopting racing colours, and there’s nothing like attracting attention from potential sponsors for this year’s charity, Cancer Research UK.

There have been many other ideas – and here are just a few:

HOW about dressing the Jag in TWR XJ-S racing colours, but using the charity’s logo?

ANDREW McCHEYNE

WHY not make the Jag look like the patrol cars from Mad Max. Would be different?

‘JOHN’

I THINK you should do your car in a King Arthur theme. Why?

Jaguar and Arthur are both legends of Britain. Both keep getting re-born just when you think they die (The Once and Future King as opposed to passing from BL to Egan to Ford)

In the recent movie King Arthur, Clive Owen played Arthur. He’s from Coventry, as is Jaguar. Clive Owen supports Liverpool, thereby denying his Coventry roots while Jaguar have pulled out of Coventry and now build in Liverpool. A half naked Keira Knightley on the side of your car would look pretty good…

BENJAMIN EARL

HOW about dressing up in a sheepskin and trilby, carrying a box of cheap cigars, and emblazoning the car with the logo:
DALEY INTO EUROPE — Don’t Get Left On The Continental Shelf!

‘SEAMASTER’

HOW about the old Jaguar Touring Car paint scheme from the seventies, you know white with the Blue ‘flying arsehole’ (thats a BL symbol to non-employees) and Unipart stickers all over it.

‘LORD SWARD’

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5 July

Saab twists and turns

By ROBERT LEITCH

HARDLY has Mike Goy responded with his thoughts on GM’s stewardship of Saab, than the tale takes a new twist. I refer of course to the ‘discussions’ now underway amongst GM, Nissan and Renault.

Obvious commercial logic rarely underpins merger and acquisition activity in the automotive sector, but it’s difficult to see what possible benefit the proposed association could bring to Renault or Nissan, still discrete entities notwithstanding their recent Union of the Crowns under Carlos Ghosn. The mere distant glow of Ghosn’s halo has already lit up GM’s share price, but it is hard to imagine how, if given the opportunity, he could resolve GM’s inherent structural legacies, such as healthcare and pension liabilities reported to cost $1000 per vehicle sold worldwide.

Obvious commercial logic rarely underpins merger and acquisition activity in the automotive sector…

Over the past year, GM’s most visible response to their financial challenges has been the ‘fire-sale’ of their holdings in Subaru, Suzuki and, most recently Isuzu. Despite their size, GM is a corporation with few ‘crown jewels’. Cadillac / Saab / Saturn / Hummer compares invidiously with Jaguar / Volvo / Land Rover / Aston Martin, Audi / Bentley / Bugatti / Lamborghini, or even Lexus / Scion / Land Cruiser. Look in GM’s technology cupboard and it appears worryingly bare, despite a revolutionary and well-presented fuel cell prototype shown a couple of years ago.

It could be cynically surmised that Renault and Nissan’s continued interest in GM’s proposition is driven by the opportunity to look into their competitor’s books, advance technology, and product plans, but if the association moves forward there must be some tangible prize on offer in return for Renault and Nissan’s capital injection, reported to be in the order of £3.3bn.

This brings me from background to idle speculation. Could what is on offer be a carve-up of territories, product ranges and production facilities, as far as the limits of free trade agreements and anti-trust legislation permit, in the cause of unprecedented rationalisation of the three companies’ global production?

In Europe, this could entail GM ceding control of Opel / Vauxhall brand names, production facilities, and dealer networks to Renault and Nissan. GM would maintain a European presence under the Chevrolet nameplate and retain design and engineering facilities at Rüsselsheim, but products would be supplied from the Far East, and possibly also Latin America and the USA. Set against the potential upheaval such a scenario would entail, the future of Saab is a peripheral sideshow, but hopefully the name at least retains sufficient equity to survive as a trophy on one or other side of the divide. The prospects for the Opel and Vauxhall names would be far grimmer.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into a very tentative approach, but remember you read it here first.

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4 July

More CHPD madness…

By KEITH ADAMS

SOLD the Lancia on Saturday morning, banked the money, and after work this evening, went and bought another car with the profits… When will it stop?

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Feedback:

I will be worried about your health once you stop… 🙂

ALEXANDER BOUCKE


3 July

Miracle Monstro?

By IAN NICHOLLS

This Maestro/Montego hybrid was spotted at the Retro Cars show at Santa Pod on July 2nd.

Does it look better than the production Maestro?

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Feedback:

NO…

KEITH ADAMS


1 July

The swedish patient

By ROBERT LEITCH

MIKE Goy’s thought-provoking response to my comments on the absurd Cadillac BLS stimulated some further thought on the fate of Saab under General Motors, and the erosion of product individuality and consumer choice.

It is hard to deny with the view that, after sixteen years of GM stewardship, Saab is a ‘basket case’, although the description applied equally in 1990, just before the new proprietor stepped in. Although not cheap and not by any means perfect, until the mid-1980s, Saabs were wonderfully distinctive products. They were certainly not universal in their appeal, but a professor in Princeton, an architect in Adelaide, or a vet in the Yorkshire dales could each feel pride that their choice of transport demonstrated a set of complex values far beyond social status.

Despite the advertising campaigns, I suspect current Saab products no more convey the manufacturer’s original heredity and ethos, than did, for example, badge-engineered Singers and Rileys in the mid-1960s.

Regrettably the 9-2 and 9-7, or rather the 9-2x and 9-7x do exist, a least for the benefit of US and Canadian dealer networks. The first is a remodelled Subaru Impreza hatchback, the other a Buick Rainier SUV with Saab wallpaper inside and out. The ‘x’ suffix supposedly denotes four wheel drive, but could possibly be a secret GM code for products too obscene to be sold in markets where some sentimental attachment to the Saab brand remains.

In its 41 years of pre-GM car production Saab’s brilliance was in doing so little so well, producing just three model ranges, the 92-96, the 99/900/90 and the joint venture 9000. (I exclude the Sonnett sports car as it was a 96 derivative made in tiny numbers even by Saab standards.) Product diversity was wilfully resisted – they never produced a four door 96 or a 99 / 900 estate – and each model range matured over its long life in a manner more akin to animal or plant life than manufactured goods.

What’s not to like about a car manufacturer
producing fewer than 100,000 cars a year,
which understands its history and ethos and
the aspirations of its customers?

It would be refreshing to see a successful challenge to current automobile orthodoxy, which dictates that a carmaker is neither serious nor viable unless it produces at least four million vehicles a year, covering every market and sector with a portfolio of brands, nurtured by marketing, yet becoming ever more meaningless through adoption of shared platforms and components.

Consider Mercedes-Benz, whose product range is not so much comprehensive as incomprehensible. The core range is renewed with Japanese regularity and it seems that every month a new sector-busting product emerges – crew-cab landaulette, MPV Brougham low-rider, 4×4 coupe-cabriolet – I could go on. But do they command the global reverence they did when their range comprised three sizes of saloon, an upmarket sports car, oh, and the odd truck and van?

What’s not to like about a car manufacturer producing fewer than 100,000 cars a year which understands its history and ethos and the aspirations of its customers. At that sort of volume they could practically know them by their first names. Such a company would have to rely on other manufacturers for key components, but it was very much in the Saab tradition to get by with a little help from their friends. Perhaps beneficial co-operation is less easily found in an industry which is now less of a community as a battlefield populated by a handful of mega-corporations larger than many nations.

Anyone who can remember what Saab once stood for must nurture a hope that some day they could fly away from GM and recover their identity. Is it too much to hope that cash-strapped GM might come up with a ‘dowry’ from money previously intended for spending on yet more sheet metal changes with no purpose other than delusion of the hapless consumer?

Disregard, for a moment at least, the awful memento mori that is the post-BMW MG Rover story, and imagine what a newly independent Saab could achieve with Subaru or Toyota as a ‘technology partner’

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Feedback:

LIKE Robert Leitch states, Saab needs to protect it’s identity and exclusivity. Saab’s starting point was exactly where MGR ended — a small independent but integral manufacturer. Sir Graham Day’s Rover even tried to justify it’s 1980s linkup with British Aerospace as a kind of Saab synergy thing, because the Swedish company was also an aircraft manufacturer.

And yes, Saab — even in their Saab/Scania days — has always been a small, niche car manufacturer. But it is the intrinsic value of the brand that General Motors seems to have overlooked. Haven’t they heard of “brand stretching”? It’s worked for Volvo, who was a one-model manufacturer in the 1970s with the 144/164/244/264. Saab could quite easily grow into the Swedish BMW, with the US only “X” models wheeled across the Atlantic to become European “softroaders”. Their existing — woefully few — products are well-regarded, and already have the important element of exclusivity that Toyota have had to create (at great expense) from scratch with Lexus. General Motors may be strapped for cash right now, but they are surely overlooking a potentially golden egg laying goose. They have the platforms, and you’d think they would be desperate to get on terms with Ford, who already has Volvo, Jaguar and Aston Martin making on their Premier Automotive Group.

Ford is also making a much better fist of things, brand management wise, than the General. A Saab link up with Subaru would be a step in the right direction, but I’d go further, with the integration of the Swedish manufacturer into the Vauxhall UK dealership network. Currently, Vauxhall main dealers offer Chevrolet and Daewoo as alternative brands. Why no Saab?

Come to think of it, why no Subaru either?

Are they worried that Vauxhall customers will be put off by an on-site premium brand, or vice versa? They could conduct a trial with just a few main dealers to begin with and see what happens. Surely, that wouldn’t cost a great deal of money. Again, I refer you to Toyota, who’ve had to do it the hard way. Lexus is now promoted in a similar way to Jaguar, a well-established premium brand with real heritage. And Scania’s web site proudly boasts that they have never been in the red. Are you listening, GM? .

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

MIKE GOY

I COULDN’T think or a worse move for GM than merging the Saab/Vauxhall/Opel dealer network.

You don’t see Jaguars in the same showroom as Fiestas nor do you see Audis alongside VW Polos! Merging the network would destroy that little brand value Saab has left.

The answer to Saab’s problems lies with its products. Is the 10 year old, old Vectra based 9-5 a worthy competitor to a Mercedes-Benz 5-Series, E-Class or Audi A6? Of course not. Neither does the plastic new Vectra-based 9-3 make a viable alternative to a 3-Series or C-Class.

GM made the same mistake Ford did with the Jaguar X-TYPE. Thinking that badge application would allow it to get away with producing a main-stream product at a premium price.

PAUL HAMPSON

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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